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Barbie Part II

By Deb Moore-Henecke

Overall, Lord's book is entertaining and packed with great information about Barbie's evolution, with definite insight into the phenomenon that is Barbie. My objection to Lord's approach is that she buries Barbie's positive attributes.

Barbie's carLike most feminists, I have been less than enthusiastic Barbie. When asked to purchase Barbies for my nieces, I have wondered if this was really the best gift to give them. Would I be contributing to their eventual battles with bulimia? I also do not have any children, so will never be confronted with the possible psychological damage that I may impart by allowing or denying Barbie mania to take hold. Therefore, my analysis depends in part on conversations with my friends and family about what Barbie means to them.

However, after my fifth trip in two years to the fuchsia Barbie temple of Toy's 'R' Us, I began to notice something I had not noticed before. Barbie has many, many- choices in life, in both career and leisure Well-dressed Barbieactivities. I discussed this with a friend Laura and she shared that one summer she and her sister had taken their Barbies (in the '60s version of a Barbie motorhome) on a tour of the United States, planned out and executed in the back yard. Each of their Barbies also had detailed educational and job experiences, as well as social histories. Another friend said that she and her friends created entire communities where all the Barbies took on new names, with some Barbies married, some not, some had careers, some did not, some were mothers and some not. In other words, a fairly accurate reflection of the world.

I recognized that was the first thing right with Barbie. Barbie is an adult doll, not a baby doll. She may, in fact, be the first adult doll. And, what an opportunity for a young girl to exercise her imagination! A baby doll only offers a child the opportunity to mother it. And, even though today's baby dolls do everything from eating and drinking to excreting, even chewing when we'd rather they not, you cannot create a complex social history for a baby doll. Offering our daughters the opportunity to play at mothering is certainly an acceptable choice, but it's only one option. Barbie, on the other hand, allows a young woman to dream about all the possibilities open to her. Barbie can be a doctor, an astronaut, a banker or lawyer, a flight attendant, a fashion designer, a nurse, a gymnast, a horse-woman, a whale trainer, a veterinarian, a personal trainer, an Arctic explorer, a teacher, a circus star, a nightclub singer and now, a member of the Star Trek crew. As a longtime fan of all things Star Trek, I must admit I just purchased the Star Trek Ken and Barbie, brought out for the 30th anniversary of the original series. Because the show first aired in the 1960's, when miniskirts were in style, Barbie wears a very short-skirted red uniform and sports a close approximation of the Yeoman Rand hair style and color. However, the people at Mattel are not fools, and the back of the box points out that Barbie's red uniform means she is a member of the ship's engineering section and a Lieutenant. Alas, Ken wears a gold uniform and is a member of the Command division.

Star Trek Barbie I'm itching to take Ken and Barbie out of the box and create a little cross-dressing exhibition, to see how Barbie looks in gold. But, as any Barbie collector will tell you, Barbies must be NRFB, or "never removed from box to" retain their value. Which leaves me no alternative other than to buy a set I can play with. Which is exactly what many Barbie collectors do. There are few limits to the career choices you can role-play with Barbie. And this is key, I think. My seven year old niece tells me that Barbie is pretty, but that she really likes to play "camping out" and "going on vacation" with her Barbies. This is a accurate reflection of my brother's life. He and his family travel frequently, often camping out. So, my niece creates this world from her experience for her Barbie.

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Copyright Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture Reprinted at www.beautyworlds.com with permission.

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